The bin that is keeping part of Street 136 clean.
Cleaner than most, the first block from the river on Street 136 has a secret weapon
to combat the accumulation of solid waste along the gutters: Yin Borum. The 25-year-old
spends his days trudging up and down the 50-meter stretch, pulling a small green
dustbin as part of a private initiative-believed to be the first of its kind in Phnom
Penh-to keep the street spotless.
Eighteen months ago when Briton David Fletcher arrived in Phnom Penh, moved to Street
136 and purchased building 20, he lived in a block of private houses-far removed
from the buzz of commercial activity that characterizes the area now. "It was
a toilet. If one person threw rubbish on the street, 15 minutes later a big pile
would appear," he said.
Since establishing the Bogie and Bacall bar on the premises, Fletcher has seen the
area transform as 23 other bars and businesses opened around him.
Concerned that his clientele were having to pick their way through rubbish on the
sidewalk and unable to rely on the city's contracted rubbish collector, CINTRI, to
keep his street acceptably clean, Fletcher took matters into his own hands.
Approaching each of the businesses on the block separately, he proposed they make
a contribution of 2,000 riel a day, or US$15 a month, to collectively employ a street
Currently, nine of the 23 businesses on the block have agreed to take part in the
scheme, which also aims to use excess funds to purchase small green rubbish bins
at $50 for each participant.
Among those unwilling to join the tidy-street scheme is the Flora Bar, whose owner,
Dina, pointed out that they already pay CINTRI, as part of their electricity bill,
to collect their rubbish each night.
"I can't afford an extra $15 a month on top of what I already pay for services,"
But Fletcher said relying on CINTRI was not enough and stressed that people need
to do more to ensure the cleanliness of their "own little patch."
While CINTRI collects rubbish from Street 136 each night between 8pm and 9pm, they
are not responsible for the maintenance or tidiness of the street, said the manager
of Babylon bar, Iv Thuonlea Khena, a participant in the scheme.
"My customers think it is a good idea and so do I," she said.
Son Savada, Assistant to the Minister of Public Works and Transport, noted that while
Phnom Penh's waste management system is improving, initiatives like Fletcher's are
"If schemes like this profit society, people need to take notice," Savada
said. "People should realize they have a duty to clean their own land. ... We
must all come together."
Since starting the scheme shortly after he arrived in mid-2006, Fletcher said rents
in the street have tripled. "It is becoming a new 51 Street," he said,
referring to the long-established patch of bars and nightclubs south of Central Market.
But all of this would not be possible without Yin Borum and his commitment to keeping
the street clean. Working from 5am to 9pm six days a week, Borum, who has no formal
training and suffers from a learning disability, earns a minimum $60 a month. With
the added options of working overtime and on his day off, he can earn up to $115.
Borum's older brother, Yin Boral, who provides tuk-tuk and moto services for customers
in the 136 area, secured the job for him when he heard Fletcher was looking for a
new street cleaner early last month.
With enough money to live on and a new independence, Borum is very happy in his first
job, his brother said. "Now he has money in his pocket people can't look down
on him anymore."
Fletcher, who keeps a balance sheet so that participants know where 100 percent of
their money is going, also distributes a monthly newsletter aimed at keeping everyone
updated on the progress of the initiative.
In December, Salt Lounge acquired a dustbin while Babylon was set to receive one
Despite facing criticism at the outset, Fletcher continues to implement his plan,
taking responsibility for the maintenance of the environment around him. Two new
bars opening in January have also pledged commitment to the scheme, taking the number
of businesses involved to 11.
"This street is spotless," Fletcher said proudly. "We are watchful
of people who dump rubbish. People used to come down here and relieve themselves
against the walls. Now they know not to."